Former Timberwolves star Kevin Garnett, once the NBA's top-paid player, claims in a lawsuit that an accountant and his firm helped a now-imprisoned wealth manager steal $77 million from him.
The federal malpractice lawsuit alleges that Kentucky-based accountant Michael Wertheim and Welenken CPAs knowingly helped Charles A. Banks IV to defraud Garnett over several years through business ventures in which Garnett and Banks shared an interest.
Wertheim "possessed actual knowledge that Banks was helping himself to millions of dollars of Garnett's money and did nothing about it," according to the suit, which was moved Wednesday from Hennepin County District Court to U.S. District Court in Minneapolis.
"Banks intentionally … looted Garnett of his earnings and assets for many years, including the many years that Welenken and Wertheim provided accounting services to Garnett and his business interests."
Defense attorney Greg Simpson said his clients "intend to vigorously defend themselves against the allegations, deny any wrongdoing and believe the suit lacks merit. They will be moving to dismiss it at an early stage."
Garnett's attorney, Mark Gaughan, would only say that "based upon the facts, we are confident this matter ultimately will be resolved in Mr. Garnett's favor."
Gaughan declined to say why Banks was not named as a defendant in the federal suit. However, Banks is being sued in Hennepin County by Hammer Holdings, a company that counted Banks and Garnett as partners and that Banks allegedly used to steal from Garnett.
Zeroing in on Wertheim's alleged misdeeds, the suit said he "took direction from Banks and for some reason chose to have virtually no contact with Garnett."
The suit said Wertheim prepared financial statements, was a registered agent for companies in which Garnett held a financial interest, and added his name to bank accounts holding Garnett's money.
Garnett on allowance
Wertheim also "worked in concert" with Banks to put Garnett on an allowance and set budgets that the 15-time NBA all-star was urged to follow, the suit read.
In one instance, Garnett asked in August 2013 to receive $40,000 of his own money, but Banks cited Wertheim in balking at the request, according to the suit.
"Kevin, I have all the info from the accountant and suggested (and required cuts)," he wrote, according to correspondence from Banks to Garnett that is part of the suit. "This e-mail is just meant to convey the cold, hard facts, no opinion or judgement [sic]. It's pretty ugly and going to be very difficult, but you can do it and it will change your life forever (financially)."
Around that time, the suit noted, Banks took more than $2 million for himself.
The e-mail implying that Garnett was in some financial difficulty came three years before he retired in 2016. Business Insider dubbed him the NBA's all-time leading salary earner at $326 million.
Guilty in another fraud case
In June 2017, Banks, a onetime winery executive, was sentenced to four years in federal prison and ordered to make $7.5 million in restitution after admitting to defrauding millions from another recently retired NBA star, San Antonio's Tim Duncan. In one of Duncan's deals with Banks, the former San Antonio Spur said he was told Garnett would be a partner.
Two months after Banks was sentenced, the siphoning of Garnett's money ended once his legal counsel gained access to the accounting firm's records, according to the suit.
The suit points to one Banks-Garnett venture as a prime example of how the Atlanta businessman stole from his partner:
California-based Hammer Holdings made investments chosen by Banks under the supposed arrangement that Garnett and Banks each held a 50-50 interest. However, Garnett learned that Banks "helped himself to millions of dollars of Hammer's funds," even though Garnett put in $57 million at Banks' direction while Banks contributed about $2.5 million.
Wertheim was also "fully aware" that Banks moved $14.8 million of Garnett's personal money into Hammer, and that Banks then "borrowed" nearly $8 million of that and took another $3 million in two other transactions.
About six weeks before Garnett filed suit in Hennepin County, he petitioned for divorce from his wife, Brandi. Garnett cited an "irretrievable breakdown" in his 14-year marriage.
The filing notes that the terms of a prenuptial agreement would dictate how their assets would be divided. The Garnetts have two daughters, ages 10 and 5, and there would be a joint custody arrangement, according to the filing.
Brandi Garnett has asked the court to suspend divorce proceedings in Minnesota — Kevin Garnett maintains a home in Orono — and has filed her own petition for divorce in her home state of California. A final determination is pending.
The Timberwolves chose Garnett out of high school in the first round of the 1995 draft. He was traded to Boston ahead of the 2007-08 campaign, and he was on the Celtics' NBA championship team that same season.
He played for the Brooklyn Nets starting in 2013 until rejoining the Timberwolves late in February 2015. He retired as a Timberwolf in 2016.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482